Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ready, set, GO!


Today is the big day!

I'm in Milan waiting for my flight to Amsterdam.

I'm bringing with me a huge luggage and a trolley with anything I might need in the next few weeks (basically: heavy shoes! Jumpers! Wool, wool and more wool!). You should have seen me dragging around these 35 fashionable kilos, it was something worth seeing.

Giuseppe left me at the train station in Bologna, and H. is picking me up at Schiphol airport. It's strange and cute that I already have someone waiting for me :)

It's time for my adventure to start!!!


Saturday, September 28, 2013


The countdown is almost over...tomorrow I'll be in Utrecht!

I already closed my luggage and checked all the entries in my to-do list. Except one: I have to stock up on cuddles until the very last moment.

I already know getting some sleep will be hard tonight.

Home sweet home!

Some of you may have heard it already, but here is the official announcement:


I am renting a room in a super duper cozy apartment that I'll share with a Dutch girl. The first month we'll be three, cause the girls were so kind as to welcome me in their house before my room was free. This pretty much sums up how lucky I was.
But it does not stop here, as H. (the girl whose room I am going to rent) is also picking me up at the airport. She's an amazing young woman, strong and positive, with whom I immediately felt at ease, even if we never met. She even invited me to her farewell party on my first weekend in the Netherlands (she's going to be working for an ONG in Africa...I told you she's cool)... The world is really showing some good love to me lately.

I feel really lucky. I haven't arrived yet and I already feel at home.
Of course I am a little scared, too...afraid of all these novelties, of the grey weather, of being separated from my love. This is why I can't wait for my new life to begin, to get over with all this anticipation. But I know I'll feel nostalgic of so many things: having breakfast with my colleagues, laughing at lunch time, going home with Giuseppe, cooking for two and watching a movie nestled in his arms. All things that is breaking my heart losing.

I take comfort in all the nice things that have happened and are bound to happen to me, and looking at my new house's pictures. I am posting one in case you're curious, and I promise I'll take more pics when I am there :)

As for our apartment in Italy, we are still looking for new renters. If you happen to know someone who might be interested, please share my contacts!


Thursday, September 26, 2013


What shall I say? May I shed a little tear?

Yesterday has been my last day at work. Tuesday will be my first day in the new office.
I'd never thought so many people were supporting me. I'd never expected so many emails, cheers, hugs and "I'm sorry you're leaving". I'd never imagined I left my small mark on that big blackboard.

I'd never thought leaving would be so hard.

The word cloud you see below has been created with all the nice messages I got today from my colleagues. Not my idea, I stole it from someone I very much admire, although I realize now I never told her clearly enough. I would have linked her post but I cannot find it anymore. Thanks Carlo, you rock.

Monday, September 23, 2013

House Hunting

Although I still don't have a roof over my head (but wait, as there's something brewing!) and I can't therefore consider myself a pro in this activity, the last frantic days of house hunting have given me enough knowledge of the Dutch estate market as to be giving some advice to those of you who are out there exploring this world too.

Let me tell ya: it's a big bad world.
  • it's expensive
  • it's VERY expensive!

But don't give up: the Netherlands are full of international students and expats coming and going, and there's a big turnover both for rooms and apartments. You're also very likely going to move to some of the big cities like Amsterdam or Utrecht, not in the boondocks! The market will be full of opportunities there and you'll surely find your perfect match.

The main difficulty is finding the right channels for your hunt. The websites and resources we use it in Italy (like Bakeca, Kijiji and the damp estate newspapers out for display at news-stands) are not in use in the Netherlands.

I called for the help of friends and acquantainces living in the Netherlands and they suggested a few websites that I could use. Below you'll find a list of those that I've come to try (in order of preference) and a short review!

Real Estate Websites

  • THUMBS UP! On Kamernet I found a great variety and quantity of valid, redent ads, in line with my budget and taste. Signing up and viewing ads is free, but you need to pay a subscription fee to contact the renter (from a minimum of 21 € for 15 days to a maximum of 36 € for 60 days). It is worth the cost, cause all ads are REAL, posted privately, and for all budgets.
  • works like Kamernet, meaning that ads-viewing is free, but there's a fee for reacting to them. There is no subscription and you pay per reaction, but to get the renter contacts you have to send a sms from a Dutch mobile at the advantageous price of 1,50 € per sms. To sum it up, it is not easy nor convenient, unless you already have a Dutch phone and a lot of money and time to waste. It appears to me that is also not as popular as Kamernet, there are less ads and more dated. But it's still worth a glimpse, if you should find something you really like then 1,50 € it's a cheap price to pay.
  • you will find a lot of ads here, but they are all managed by real estate agencies. If you like estate agents you'll be pleased by this site, where contacting them is free (although visiting the place may not be - some agencies require and advance payment). I personally don't like estate agencies, but if you are interested these are their prices:
      • Equavalent to 1 month of rent
      • Mediation fee (Equavalent to 1 month of rent)
      • VAT 19% (calculated on the service fee)

  • Erasmusu: specialised in rooms in shared flats, focused on students but also useful for young workers who wish to find a cheap accommodation. Subscribing is necessary to react to ads and costly (much more than Kamernet): starting at 15 € for 5 days, and up to 60 € for 6 months (hope it doesn't take 6 months to find a room...).
  • Rent Student Room: a sort of forum where registering and answering to posts is free. Rooms are posted on the site and users can react to them in a thread or by private message.

If you are looking for a temporary accommodation, you may find something on Airbnb too. Many of the rooms and apartments posted are by people who wish to rent their place while travelling or away.
This is quite common in the Netherlands, where people have an open and pragmatic mind, and think it is a waste to leave the house empty when they could raise some money out of it. On the contrary, in Italy we are very attached to our house and rarely ready to share it with anybody!

If you are lucky enough to have some local acquaintances, don't forget to tell your friends that you are looking for a place to stay and ask them to get some information for you: word of mouth is the best way to get top apartments and prices.

Another possibility is to check if there's any Facebook page dedicated to expat in the city where you're going to live, they may help you with your hunt or at least suggest neighbourhoods to avoid.

Finally, as suggested by my friend Gaetano, try to google "free rental service" + the name of your city. You may find some other websites offering agency-free rentals. You never know...

TE KOOP = for sale
TE HUUR = for rent

If you know about other channels and resources please tell me and I'll be happy to add them :)


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

11 days to go

Here I am with some updates!

I guess the last two posts were a bit boring for those of you who are not looking for a job in the Netherlands and are only here for a sneak peek into my little, to make up for that, I'm telling you what's been going on over the past days.

I am leaving on Sunday September 29th, from Milan, flying Easyjet. It's a journey of hope, with 2 luggages, 1 train, 1 bus, 1 flight, and 1 more train.

I can hear you say now...."what on earth are you doing this for?!"'re right :(
Sometimes I am so stingy (especially when it comes to flights) that, just to save a few bucks, I can embark on journeys that would make Frodo shiver. On top of that, 3 days after the booking I was quite disappointed to find in my inbox the KLM newsletter announcing seasonal offers on flights to Amsterdam. Ouch.

But let bygones be bygones, I've stocked up on books and I have enough readings for all that traveling. However, there're still many entries on my to-do list!

First: find a house. Initially I wanted to start looking for an apartment once in Utrecht, so that I could see the neighbourhoods and be aware of distances, etc. Therefore I booked a flat for 2 weeks on Airbnb. Sadly, it is a bit costly...I tried to look for something cheaper, and I was even willing to share a flat with a woman, her two children and another tenant, but things didn't work out and I "fell back" on a more expensive solution. This miniature studio, with burners in the middle of the entrance/living room/kitchen and no extractor fan, clearly has a high opinion of itself and adjusted the price on its ego, not size.

Second: get my documents in order. I started to get information on the bureaucratic steps I need to take to lawfully live in the netherlands, and I found out about the existence of this mystic number: the BSN (Burger Service Nummer). Despite the name, it is not Mc Donald's take-away line, but the expat's holy grail in the Netherlands. Without the BSN in the Netherlands YOU DO NOT EXIST. You cannot rent a place, open a bank account, work, get paid, or go to the doctor.

Our good-natured fiscal code is no match.
As you might have grasped, getting a BSN it's a necessary step for any other task, and the sooner you get it, the better. I then started to chase this magic number, and I found to my surprise that one of the requirements is being in a rental contract. Ah-ah. Loving this catch-22 situations.

I asked my temporary Airbnb host to sign me a document where he declares that I live at his place, and of course he turned me down: off-the books sublet is not just an Italian plague.

All right. After this I started looking for a different accommodation where they would let me register my contract. Waiting until I found a final accommodation was not really an option, as this might take some time and in the meantime I would be unable to open a bank account and receive my salary. Also, as I am quite restless, I already had scheduled an appointment with the Utrecht Municipality on the day after my arrival, to register my BSN. I didn't really want to reschedule that. So there I was, quite in a hurry to find someone willing to declare that no, Linda does not live under a bridge.

Luckily enough, one of my future colleagues is a super duper nice Italian guy who is really helping me a lot with my relocation. He asked his landlord if I can register my address at his place, and the landlord said YES! See how nice people are in the Netherlands???
Now I feel relieved!

The adventure got a happy ending, but I still learnt a lesson: do not wait till the last minute, start early instead!

So I had a second thought on my house-hunt project and I started looking for a long term accommodation from Italy. I was happy to find that rental prices are not as high as I had feared: I mean, they do ARE high, but not as high as I had figured.

Let's say that if you are willing to share a students' house with 3 other people, you might get a room starting at 300 € (of course it's not the Hilton and it's not Amsterdam). The closer you get to the city-center, the higher the number of housemates, and the cuter the room, the higher is the price you'll have to pay. Still the budget I gave myself (which, to be honest, was scaring the shit out of me) is now looking more than adequate and this is heartening.

A few notes on house-hunting in the Netherlands:

  • You do not get many replies (so far I only got 3 replies out of the 20-something applications I sent). Is it because Italians are not regarded as good housemates? Why, when we know how to make pasta and other such stereotypes. Meh.
  • Visiting a house before renting it is a girlie thing. There is even a "viewing" field in every ad, and very often the answer is "NO". Ain't pics enough? Get lost. I must admit I am not so annoyed by this habit, as it comes in pretty handy when you look for a house from abroad.

On Saturday I had a sort of Skype interview with the owner of a flat where I might rent a room. I thought it would be something of a chat, just to avoid exchanging emails, but it ended up feeling as a test. When we hung up I was quite tense. They were lovely, but had I knew that the call was so important to get the room, I would at last straightened my hair... I am, fingers crossed, hoping I get the room... Pleasepleaseplease say yes!

The location is great, the house is super cute, my hopefully future housemate is a stunning blonde and a sweetie, the rent is fair, everything is perfect... There is only one tiny downside to this is place, and that's that it is only available in November, which means I should start looking for another temporary accommodation for October, but they were kind enough to say that I could stay at their place for a few days before I take the room...

Guys, please, cheer on me!!!

Sorry for the extra-long post. I'll try to write less but more often ;)

Until next time!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Negotiating a Contract

After a strenuous selection process (see earlier post!) you finally got an offer?

Let's see what you can expect from a work contract in the Netherlands and what benefits you can negotiate. These information will help you to understand if what they are offering is good and what else you could ask for.

Standard Benefits
A basic contract, on top of the salary, includes the following benefits:

  • Holidays: a minimum of 20 days of paid holiday p/y
  • Commuting allowance: up to 100% public transport reimbursement or a certain refund per km if you drive your car to work (up to 60 km per day)
  • Pension plan (to which you contribute in a small percentage, around 4%)
  • Discount on the health insurance package if you choose the one suggested by your company (there is no public health assistance as in Italy, you have to pay for your own insurance - around 110 € per month for a basic insurance)

Differences with the Italian work contract
There are a few differences with the Italian contract that are worth knowing:

  • There is no TFR (the amount paid by Italian companies when you leave the job, either because you quit or retire)
  • There are very few bank holidays in the Netherlands! New Year’s Day (1 January), Easter Monday, Queen’s Day (30 April), Ascension Day (40 days after Easter), Whit Monday or Pentecost (7 weeks after Easter), Christmas and Boxing Day (25 and 26 December).
  • There are no fixed hourly leaves: you cannot just say "On Friday I am gonna take two hours off". You need to have a personal / familiar / health committment and you have to explain what it is. But in many companies you can ask your boss to stay longer every day and take a short Friday or a few hours off.
  • Maternity leave: 16 weeks at 100% of the salary (4 to 6 weeks before the delivery and 10 weeks after the delivery)*. Before the delivery you are also entitled to paid leaves to receive antenatal care (analysis, medical appointments and stuff).

*in Italy you have 22 weeks at 80%

Other special leaves:
• Marriage (including obtaining licenses): 2 days 
• Your 25th and 40th wedding anniversary: 1 and 2 days respectively
• Marriage of your own children, parent or siblings: 1 day
• Birth of your own child (for the father): 2 days
• Death of a family member (partner, parents, children, siblings, parents-in- law): from date of death until funeral
• Death of a relative (grandparents, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, brother- and sister-in-law): 1 day
• Taking an exam: travel time and the duration of the exam
• House moving: up to a maximum of 2 days per year, if required

Let's now discuss the thing that you are most interested in...the salary!
I was very uncertain about what would be a fair salary, and it's difficult to get a clear idea as it really depends on a lot of different factors.
For example, the cost of living can change dramatically between cities, with Amsterdam being the most expensive and Utrecht the second most expensive. It also depends on your field of expertise and your years of experience.
These are the average salaries in the Netherlands for the year 2013 (source):

women: €29,221 - €51,534
men: €34,858 - €65,512

As you can see, 30K is the minimum you should ask, even if you are very junior!
A Software Engineer starts at 35K, if it's senior 45 - 50k. A Project Manager earns around 50k. Managers start at 60-70k.

Taxes & Net Income
How much will you actually pay in taxes?

› 33% on the first 18.628 euros (1,85% taxes & 31,15% social security contributions)
› 41,95% on the next 14.808 euros (10,8% taxes & 31,15% social security contributions)
› 42% on the next 22.258 euros (tax only)

When calculating your net monthly income, bear in mind that:

  • There are 12 monthly pays + 1 "Vacation Pay" in June (8% of gross salary)
  • If you want to calculate your monthly net income, you should therefore do it WITHOUT including the vacation pay (i.e. 40K > (40K - 3,2K) = 36,8K)

So, for our 40K example, you would be getting a monthly net income of 1919 € (plus the Vacation Pay, which is also taxed). Remember that this does not include the health insurance.

You can find more information about the Dutch tax system here.

The biggest expense you'll have is the accommodation: rent prices for a (decent) studio start at a monthly 700 € in Utrecht and even 900 - 1000 € in Amsterdam. A room in a shared apartment can cost 400 - 600 € or more in Utrecht, and 600 - 800 € or more in Amsterdam. The price usually includes all bills.

30% Ruling
If you will be getting a gross salary of 50K or more, you can apply for the 30% ruling, which is a sort of tax "discount" that is allowed to skilled immigrants, to make up for the expenses that they need to cope with when living in a foreign country. Basically, only 70% of your gross salary gets taxed and the remaining 30% is tax free!

You can find many information about the 30% ruling here.
If you are eligible for the ruling, remember to ask the employer to sponsor you before signing the contract: the application must be signed jointly by you and the employer, and the employer must specify in the employment contract that they are going to apply for the 30% ruling for you.

If you apply within 4 months since the day you start working in the Netherlands, when you are granted the ruling this will be retrospective and they will refund the extra taxes you paid from the beginning. If you apply later than 4 months, the ruling will become effective as of the first day of the month following the month of application.

The ruling is granted by the government, therefore even if the company accepts to apply for you, this does not guarantee that you will be getting the discount.

Hope this was helpful! If you need more information or there is anything missing in this article that you would like to know about, please write in the posts :)


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Application & Selection Process

This post is for those who wish to apply for a job in the Netherlands while living in a different country. How should you apply? What should you expect?
The process really isn't different from Italy or any other country in Europe, but I thought that it's always helpful to be prepared and know what's going to happen. This is my personal experience, and has all been live-tested for you by me :)

1. Looking for a job
Being part of the European Union, applying for a job in the Netherlands from one of the member countries is now very easy and common.
You will find a lot of job postings on major websites like or, and applying online is a standard procedure. Don't be scared by job descriptions written in Dutch: unless specified, recruiters are very likely to consider international candidates as well.
You can also apply on the corporate website of a specific company, although it is preferable to apply for an available posting: open applications are generally lost in cyberspace.

Your CV should be in English of course, unless you master Dutch!
Don't forget to include a cover letter explaining why you are applying for a job abroad, and specifically why you would like to work in the Netherlands. It's never a good idea to talk about personal matters at this stage, and bear in mind that Dutch people are generally quite reserved with strangers, so even if the reason for your relocation is joining a family member, don't say it! Tell why you appreciate their country (and hopefully you do, as you are willing to work there... :)).

2. Selection Process.
Dutch recruiters are very accurate and reliable: if they are not interested, they will always tell you. It's definitely remarkable, so you're not left in agony...
The selection process is usually divided in 2 to 3 steps: phone call, interview and test.
For some jobs, there may be more than 1 phone call, test or interview, but it depends on the seniority and nature of the role.

A) The Phone Call
If your profile is interesting to the recruiter, you can expect a first contact by email or - more likely - phone call.
WARNING: The phone call will be very long and detailed, and they will ask you a lot of things about your past and current jobs, your skills and expectations: so be prepared! It's always a good idea to study your career's strong points and set your professional goals, so that you are able to comfortably discuss all of this in English without notice.
The person calling will be an HR person, so they won't get too technical, but they will also ask you stuff like "what's your notice period" or "what's your salary expectation". Be sure you know the answer!*
The phone call is so important because it will give the recruiter a lot of information and will help form the first impression of you. If this is negative, then it's very hard to get an interview (shit). But if it's positive, then you will be on top of the applicants list! So be confident, and also try to build your PR skills (they never hurt).

*see next post for useful info ;)

B) The Interview
As you are living abroad, the first interview will probably be held via Skype, WebEx or or to write off travel expenses in case you are not THE ONE.
First of all: install the tool they wish to use in advance, test it and know how to use it :)
Second: connect a little earlier than the agreed time (like, 15 minutes).
Third: make sure that you are in a quiet place where you can relax and talk freely for as long as it's needed (so definitely not the office!). Take a few hours off work if needed, as these interviews can get quite long. Also, look for a nice background: a white wall is always better than a pile of dirty clothes or a nude poster, but if you are looking for a work in the design / art / fashion field, a good looking and tastefully decorated room is desirable.

The interview will be usually divided in 2 parts: the first one is with the HR, the second one with your future boss and possibly someone else from the team. There may be a third part with the boss of your boss (Good sign! Means they already like you!).

C) The Test
Either because you are a foreigner, or because they are less trustful than Italian companies, Dutch employers are generally very likely to ask you to undergo a test. If you are a software developer, they will ask you to write some code; if you are a copywriter, you will have to write some sort of text; and so on.

You HAVE TO accept and take the test, unless you have a very serious reason not to do so (and I can't think of one, if you really want the job), or you will be automatically out of the games. If you have some urgent or unexpected commitment to attend, tell them as soon as possible and ask for the test to be postponed. The test is usually a written assignment to be taken at home.
If you have ANY doubts about the test and how you should do it, ask the HR guy as soon as possible. Do not try to contact your future manager or team unless you've been told so: the HR will contact them for you if needed.

Want to make a big impression? Search the web and their corporate website to find out what the style of the company is, and use it in your assignment: you can generally discover a lot just by reading the "About Us" section. Don't be informal if they are formal, don't be long if they are short, and try to reflect their brand identity.
Not sure if this applies to web developers as well though :)

Respect the deadline (of course) and possibly send the test back 1 to half a day before it. However do not be too early, it shows that you have taken your time to review your test and that you are a meticulous employee.

Always watch out for typos (run a spell-checker just in case) and ask someone you trust to read it and suggest possible improvements (it's not cheating, you would do that at work, too!). Make sure the layout is neat and clear.

When you send your test back, include some notes and explain your choices - we all think in a different ways and others may not be able to understand why you chose an option instead of another. Also, if you motivate your choices in a logical way, the company will be able to tell how you think and - very importantly - a mistake may be forgiven.

D) The On-site Interview
If your company is in a hurry, they may make you an offer even if they haven't met you in person (this happened to me). Generally, however, they will want to meet you before they take a final decision.

If they invite you for an interview, it is legitimate to ask them to pay for any travel expense. Of course if you are very junior, they might not be willing to pay, at least not for everything. Be confident and just ask them to take arrange your visit: there is nothing wrong in this. But don't be too strict - unless yours is a very rare profile, they are likely to find someone else in the Netherlands, so you may need to come to terms.
For example they can pay for the flight and you can pay for the accommodation or (if you are spending the weekend over) you can pay for the extra nights other than the interview's night. These costs may be refundable later, so don't worry about them too much.

Hope you find this useful! The next post will be about the negotiations and what you can expect from a Dutch contract in case you're hired ;)